Patrol Air Cushion Vehicle

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PACV cruising full speed.jpg
PACV cruising through swamp area
Class overview
Name: PACV
Builders: British Hovercraft Corporation, Bell Aerosystems
Completed: 3
General characteristics
Type: hovercraft
Displacement: 7.06 metric tons
Length: 38 ft 10 in (11.58 m)
Beam: 23 ft 9 in (7.01 m)
Installed power: 1014 hp
Propulsion: GE LM-100 gas turbine
Speed: 60 kn (110 km/h) maximum
Range: 165 nmi (306 km)
Complement: 4
Armament: .50 cal M2 machine gun, 2x M60 machine guns
USS Gunston Hall (LSD-5) (Dock Landing Ship) launches a PACV circa 1967
A PACV in Cau Hai Bay near Hue in 1968.

The Patrol Air Cushion Vehicle (PACV) was a United States Navy river patrol hovercraft used during the Vietnam War.

The PACV was based on Bell Aerosystems Bell SK-5 hovercraft; a licensed version of the British Saunders-Roe (later, British Hovercraft Corporation) SR.N5 hovercraft. The SK-5 was adapted for American military use in 1965. Three were purchased by the U.S. Navy for operations in the emerging Vietnam War. Training of PACV crews was performed in the waters off Coronado, California near San Diego. Feedback from the training period allowed refinements to the design to be made.

Military Service[edit]

PACVs were first deployed in 1966 to Vietnam as part of the U.S. Navy's River Patrol Force (Task Force 116). Often called "Pac Vees", they were armed with a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on a rotational platform in the front, side mounted M60 machine guns, and often remote controlled M60s or grenade launchers in the stern. In addition, the crew, and often U.S. Army Green Berets and ARVN Rangers, riding on the side panels, employed assorted small arms such as M16 rifles, M79 grenade launchers, various other rifles, .45 pistols, M60s, and grenades. During PACV's first tour in Vietnam some basic light armor was added to the hovercraft to give it some protection from enemy fire.

The Navy withdrew the PACVs for overhaul in December 1966/January 1967 and redeployed them to Vietnam in late 1967. The U.S. Army created its own version of the PACV in 1967 with some of the Navy's modifications from the experimental phase of 1966, calling it the ACV, for air cushion vehicle. There were only three Navy PACVs, and three Army ACVs during the whole Vietnam War.

The PACV was too loud for patrol and interdiction missions on the coastline and waterways. Then, in November 1966, in Operation Quai Vat (Vietnamese for "Monster", which was what the Viet Cong called the PACVs), the PACV force brought its speed and firepower to bear on the Viet Cong, with many successful attacks and raids, taking prisoners and destroying Viet Cong sanctuaries. This demonstration of great prowess and capability in the marshy terrains and on the slick grounds found in southwestern Vietnam formed the basis for stationing the Army's ACVs in the Plain of Reeds along the south Vietnamese/Cambodian border. Though the loud noise of the PACVs was still an issue, their speed made up for it in this otherwise difficult terrain, especially during the monsoon season.

The Green Berets stationed in Moc Hoa became proponents of the PACVs, using them in many of their early operations. Search and destroy raids conducted out of Moc Hoa in November 1966 caught the Viet Cong by surprise and resulted in many Viet Cong deaths.

PACVs conducted many successful missions on the Mekong Delta, Cat Lo, Plain of Reeds out of Moc Hoa in their initial tour. The most successful operation was a wrongful incursion into Cambodia on November 20, 1966 that also involved insertion of South Vietnamese troops by helicopters and Mike Force Special Forces airboats manned by Chinese Nungs. 56 Vietnamese communist soldiers were killed to one Mike Force WIA. When it was discovered they were in Cambodia, not Vietnam, all units were withdrawn. The communist unit engaged had previously successfully engaged the airboats and Special Forces CIDG forces in South Vietnam on November 14, killing two Americans and wounding one.

With time, and the degree of threat that this new fast and fierce weapon brought with it, the handful of PACVs and ACVs in Vietnam eventually became major targets.

Civil Service[edit]

In 1965, San Francisco and Oakland Helicopter Airlines operated a 15-seat Bell SK-5 hovercraft in scheduled passenger service between San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Oakland International Airport (OAK) and Pier 50 in San Francisco in addition to its scheduled helicopter airline service operated in the Bay Area.


PACV serial number 004 is the only surviving British Hovercraft Corporation-built US Navy PACV, and is currently preserved at Yanks Air Museum, Chino, CA.[1] The last surviving Army ACV (No. 903) is located at the Army Transportation Museum in Ft. Eustis, VA.


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